Call to lift ban on organised poker
The Stormont Executive is being urged to lift the ban on the playing of organised poker at venues in Northern Ireland.
The Social Development Committee is to have talks in Belfast next month with representatives from the card tables who are pushing for changes in the laws.
Charity poker tournaments for small stakes are allowed, but apart from Andorra, Turkey and the Vatican city, Northern Ireland is the only region in Europe where no form of organised commercial poker is permitted.
Social Development minister Nelson McCausland is already under heightening pressure to end the restrictions on betting offices opening on Sundays, and a new pressure group called Legalise Poker in Northern Ireland is looking to persuade him to deal the sort of hand which leaves all sides a winner.
Paul Feldstein, a literary agent from Bangor, Co.Down, and a dedicated recreational player declared: "It makes no sense that games of chance such as bingo, bookmaking and slot machines are all allowed while poker - a game of skill requiring maths, game theory and psychology is not permitted. It just doesn't add up."
The restrictions mean that hundreds of poker players are having to travel to the Republic to play in registered clubs and at major tournaments. As many as 600 people from all over Europe can be at the tables for the start of four-day tournaments. Almost 30 were staged across the border in the last 12 months.
A spokesman said: "Mr McCausland has not yet finally decided if there will be new legislation, or what areas any new legislation may cover." But the poker players insist it's time for cards to be dealt in a completely new and up-front environment, which they claim could generate up to 350 new jobs in clubs organising and facilitating events.
Mr Feldstein said: "The interest in poker worldwide has seen a phenomenal growth in the last five years with millions signing up to internet poker sites. There are a large number of TV shows dedicated to poker. Thousands play in live events. There is a whole new industry out there which could never be envisaged when the last gambling legislation for Northern Ireland was considered in 1985. The rest of the UK revised and updated their laws in 2005."
He added: "The poker club is a microcosm of what Northern Ireland aspires to be - a safe place where everyone just gets along. Allowing a few poker rooms is not going to suddenly create any more hardened gamblers. It is not a game for the hardened gamblers who want quick results.
"Alcohol is legal and it is a much bigger addiction problem. So why is poker illegal? Why not legalise and regulate poker, just like alcohol, tobacco and other forms of gambling. Much better to regulate and educate than keep it all under the table and in the back rooms where the unscrupulous reside."